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Judge criticises government inaction on online media access

Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, center, smiles as she is congratulated by her supporters after winning the chief executive election in Hong Kong, 26 March 2017
Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, center, smiles as she is congratulated by her supporters after winning the chief executive election in Hong Kong, 26 March 2017

AP Photo/Kin Cheung

This statement was originally published on hkja.org.hk on 24 March 2017.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association welcomes the High Court's decision to grant it leave to challenge the government's blanket ban on digital-only news outlets from its press events and facilities.

The ruling was made by Justice Godfrey Lam who was critical of the "inaction of the government for a long time to an entire change in the landscape of the media".

Despite a December report by the Ombudsman that the government should change its policy and be more flexible in regarding the access of online journalists, the government remained adamant with its ban.

The government has rejected appeals by six journalists' unions and three Chief Executive candidates' to allow online journalists access to to government press events and facilities at the Chief Executive election on Sunday.

Justice Lam said given the Ombudsman's recommendation, the government should have made adhoc arrangements for the Election, knowing its significance and the public interest in it.

Representing the Association, Johannes Chan Man-mun SC (Hon) said the blanket ban was a blatant denial of the public's right to know and press freedom promised by the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance.

However, the court has rejected the association's application for an interim order to allow online journalists holding its membership cards access to the press facilities for the Sunday election.

Justice Lam said the court could not assume the function of policy making and give certain class of journalists access.

The government asked the association to pay its legal bill on the interim order but the judge disagreed. He said the union has exhausted every mean and channel including a complaint to the Ombudsman before coming to court. "The union has not been able to get anywhere," he said.

The association chairman Sham Yee-lan would seek further legal advice on the judicial review. She called on the government to make adhoc arrangements before its reviews of online media access policy is completed.

The court will fix a date for the judicial review hearing later. The Association was also represented by Alison Choy.

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